Katie Murray’s motivation for entering the Future of Southern Agriculture Student Essay Contest was not rare for a college student. “It was the need for money. I’m on an assistantship at North Carolina State, but I was having to work extra jobs.

“I had prayed about being able to pay my bills, then I read about the contest. I didn’t think I could win it, but I decided I couldn’t just ask the Lord to help me without at least taking the step.”

Murray is the runnerup in the graduate category and will take home $4,000.

Murray had written a technical paper on a subject similar to her essay theme, then reworked the paper. She focused on the “ability of U.S. farmers to establish a cooperative, launch a marketing campaign and develop a new seal of food safety for Southern agriculture.

“The U.S. consumer is currently demanding a product that is not only environmentally friendly but animal friendly and many times enriched in value as well. It is time for us to introduce the world to the quality of Southern-produced food.”

A big challenge for farmers, according to Murray, is to band together to market globally, with the idea of branding Southern agriculture for its safety and quality and building consumer confidence in that brand.

The essay challenged Murray to learn more about the business side of agriculture, she said. “I had to start from scratch, but I learned a whole lot about imports, exports and how marketing takes place in agriculture. I didn’t have a lot of that knowledge beforehand.”

Murray, the daughter of Eddie and Kathy Murray, grew up in Moultrie, Ga., on a small family farm that raised and sold livestock until Katie started elementary school.

A succession of ag teachers throughout school had a significant influence on her. “I spent a lot of time at livestock shows and FFA events, and all of my teachers fostered that love for agriculture. I also looked up to people I knew from FFA who “drove me and inspired me to follow the agricultural path.”

Katie is on schedule to earn her masters in agricultural education at North Carolina State in May 2010. Between undergraduate and graduate studies, she spent a year teaching agriculture in school, and decided to settle on it for a career.

“My long-term goal is to return to teach agriculture in a middle school in Georgia, where my friends and family and the people I grew up with live. Both my dad and older brother teach in middle school. It’s the only thing I see myself doing for the rest of my life.

“I appreciate Delta Farm Press and Syngenta for making this an option for college students,” Katie said. “I’m just so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to enter the contest. These are hours now that I can study and don’t have to work.”

To read the winners’ essays go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com, and click on the official winners link.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com